Pure Filipino… of Master Danongan Kalanduyan and his Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble
By Philip Dominguez Mercurio
SAN FRANCISCO - Riveting. It’s a word only used to characterize something that is captivating, motivating or something which elucidates a deep feeling from within oneself that at times cannot exactly be explained into actual words. Defined in this way, riveting also depicts the exact feeling I was having in the front row of the ODC Theater that Saturday evening.
If you missed it, there was another amazing, sold-out performance of Filipino sound by Master Danongan Kalanduyan and his Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble last month) at ODC Theater located in heart of the Mission District, San Francisco.
It was a thrilling, if not exhilarating experience, sitting in the front row with cameras blinking and camcorders rolling, all the while watching the percussionists and dancers do their thing.
The tumultuous sounds may have seemed incoherent at first but after just a few seconds of adjustment, one would be immediately awash with the beauty of Filipino culture. The beats are given color, a vibrant color which along with the energetic dancers and vivid fabrics, take you back to another world literally unknown to most people, most Filipinos… even Filipinos living in the Philippines.
Your standard grand piano may not be invited to this event.
Instead, instrumentation came in other forms with names that are more on the fancy-fancy side, like the babendil to the agung. The babendil, according to the kulintang website, is a small vertical hand-held gong, struck on its rim and functioned as the time-keeper of the ensemble. The agung is a very large wide-rimmed vertical-hanging gong, struck with a rubber-covered stick while the gandingan functions with a set of four large, shallow vertical-hanging gongs which graduate in size and in tuning.
Covered with a natural goat or lizard skin, the dabakan is the single-headed kettle-shaped wooden drum which Professor Begonia periodically spent time hella beating the s**t out of using a nifty pair of flexible rattan sticks. And of course, who could forget the kulintang, the main melody instrument in the ensemble, which looks like a bunch of golden bathtub stoppers for the misinformed. Altogether, they form the Kulintang Ensemble, a wonderful entourage of musical power only harnessed to its fullest potential when all instruments are in play.
It’s amazing that even with all the synthesizers and various other implements which electronically vibrate your ears and make you sing karaoke to your loudest nowadays, there is something almost fundamental about the sounds of this ensemble. This music doesn’t just jolt your ears and vibrate your 24-hour fitness belly… it also goes deep and jolts your roots, roots you may not even know had existed.
That’s what makes this music so inspiring. This music instantly brings you back to a time period rarely spoken about –when the Filipino was untainted by the effects of the cross and Coca-Cola; a time period that was, essentially, purely “Filipino.” What Master Danongan Kalanduyan has done (if I could borrow a few words from Professor Begonia for a moment) is give us a glimpse of the past, providing not only Filipino Americans but all Filipinos with evidence which is in blatant defiance of the old mythology that the Filipinos were uncivilized before the intrusion of the Spanish.
With every beat on the drum, with every whip of the fan, with every thump on the gong, you get a little closer to a part of your Filipino-ness that may have been shrouded by colonialism – a little closer to the realization that Filipinos had a unique culture that was sweetly innocent and admirably beautiful. In the end, you come away with an incredible pride in your culture, a more attuned self-perception of your own ethnicity that could only have been elicited by such an awe-inspiring presentation from the past.
And to think this would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Master Danongan Kalanduyan, himself, effortlessly playing his kulintang for all to see, paving the way for Filipinos of the now and into the future, to continue these traditions that could have been lost forever.
It’s a wonderful sight to behold; one which I’ll personally treasure. Of course, as much as I could write about this topic, I don’t think anyone could capture the essence of this world-renowned artisan as eloquently as my teacher, Professor Begonia has: “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize when you’re sitting there listening to this man, to realize what a master he is.
He truly is a master. He spent the last three decades, last 30 years of his life promoting this music, the music which I fondly call the ‘music of resistance.’ This music has been in the Philippines since 300 A.D. and Filipinos played it with a specific and special signature sound which you are now enjoying this evening.
And what Master Danongan Kaladuyan has done, he… has, for all intents and purposes, single-handedly introduced or reintroduced this music, to the United States, to Europe, to Japan, and for that matter to other parts of the Philippines that are not familiar with this music… and I just simply want to acknowledge his 30 years of dedication.”
We couldn’t agree with you more, sir. – PDM
See this article,"Pure Filipino" in Philippine News. Click here.